Image from KPBS. Top: Laphonza Butler is sworn into the Senate on October 3, 2023, by Vice President, Kamala Harris.
On Tuesday, October 3, Laphonza Butler was sworn into the U.S. Senate, making history as America’s first Black lesbian senator. California Governor Gavin Newsom selected her to replace the late Dianne Feinstein until the next election, in 2024. As leader of Emily’s List, a political organization committed to electing Democratic pro-choice women, she’s experienced in politics and, according to Newsom, more than qualified for the position. This news has led many to discuss the implications of a Black lesbian senator in Congress and the impact her appointment could have on representation in the U.S. government.
Many in Washington High School believe this is a step in the right direction toward greater diversity in politics. “I think in the last ten years or so, there’s definitely been some improvement. It seems like Congress and the judiciary are becoming more diverse,” says Mr. Block, Washington’s AP U.S. History teacher, “but there’s certainly a long way to go in terms of gender equity, racial equity, and LGBTQ+ representation.” Rhea Shaik, a senior, holds similar views. “Compared to 30 or 40 years ago, of course, we’ve progressed, but we could be doing it at a much faster rate,” she explains. She adds that considering the level of power Congress has, there’s not enough representation.
Laphonza Butler’s appointment could also allow for deeper, more significant conversations about LGBTQ+ equality in the Senate. “She may bring up some issues of equality that might get omitted or ignored by people who are blind to the experiences of the community,” Mr. Block says. He hopes that as a woman encouraging other women to enter politics, she can continue to advocate for accessibility using her new platform. Shaik says that being from a different background than most others in powerful positions, Butler could offer a new and valuable perspective. “It might encourage other people of diverse backgrounds to run for higher positions in the future too,” she mentions. However, she also worries about the potential backlash Butler may receive, similar to what Kamala Harris faced after becoming Vice President. She doesn’t want the fear of backlash to prevent others with similar backgrounds from running for office.
Not only is Butler the first Black lesbian senator, but she’s also a working mom. Her experience can be compared to Katie Porter, who is running for the Senate in 2024 and has been open about the difficulties of running for office as a mother. “I would think that people like Butler and Porter would bring up barriers to access that are important for the other senators to consider, and see if any modifications can be made to make it easier, although it’ll never be completely easy to run for a Senate seat as a mom,” Mr. Block says.
Despite her qualifications, Butler does not intend to run for the seat in 2024. Upon contemplating what services she wanted to do and how she hoped to utilize her voice, she stated, “Knowing you can win a campaign doesn’t always mean you should run a campaign.” Her decision leaves the seat open to leading candidates Adam Schiff, Katie Porter, and Barbara Lee. Even without Butler involved, it appears to be a close race, as all three are prominent Democratic representatives.
Butler’s appointment has sparked considerable conversation regarding representation in the U.S. government. It has not only emphasized the growing diversity of the government but also how slow that growth has been. Washington staff and students hope that she will prompt change, specifically regarding the inclusion of women of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and working mothers in Congress. However, they acknowledge that she is just one person and that the government has a long way to go to attain representation that is proportional to the population. Though Butler is only an interim senator, she appears capable and qualified, providing hope that the U.S. government is taking action toward further diversity.
Shruthi Subramaniyan is a senior at Washington High School. She was born and raised in Fremont, and this is her first year at The Hatchet. She’s interested in covering topics regarding the arts, culture, current events, and the Washington community. Her passions include art, music, teaching, and psychology. She also plays badminton on the school team and loves spending time outdoors with her friends. In the future, she hopes to attend university to study psychology and explore potential careers.